Women’s Equal Participation Fundamental to Democracy and Justice

Date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More coverage and photos of Ms. Bachelet's activities at CSW56 »

IPU Map of Women in Politics 2012

Remarks delivered by Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director UN Women Joint IPU/UN Women meeting,29 February 2012 New York.

[check against delivery]

Good morning. I am grateful to have the opportunity, once again, to meet with you, Members of Parliament, representatives of the citizens of your respective countries.

This is my third meeting with members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and I thank you for all that you do to promote women's empowerment and gender equality.

Since we last met, UN Women issued our first flagship report on progress of the world's women: In Pursuit of Justice. The report found that in many countries, the rule of law still rules women out. It also found that we can make justice work for women by spearheading legal reform and policy change, by supporting women's legal rights, and by increasing the number of women police and judges.

Today and last year, two major developments dominate the global debate: the transition in the Arab States and the continued financial and economic crisis.

In response to these events and to the demands of women, UN Women will place special emphasis this year on expanding women's political participation and leadership, and economic empowerment.

Advancing women's political participation and leadership is an area where the collaboration with IPU and all your Parliaments is crucial. Women's full and equal participation in the political arena is fundamental to democracy and justice, which people are demanding.

When the protests erupted in Tunisia and Tahrir Square, UN Women responded immediately—by providing support for women's participation in constitutional reform, elections and political transition. I have travelled four times to the region to meet with women and young people.

In September, UN Women brought women leaders from all regions together at the UN General Assembly to call for more women leaders in politics worldwide. In December, Member States adopted a new resolution that calls on UN Member States to take concrete steps to increase women's political participation and leadership.

In November, UN Women issued 16 policy steps that can, and should, be taken to prevent and end violence against women.

Obviously, this work is not something that UN Women can do alone. Collaboration with the Inter-Parliamentary Union is critical. Our partnership has brought benefits at the global and national levels and we look forward to continued strong collaboration as we move forward.

Globally, we have strengthened our joint work on knowledge projects such as the web platform, iKnow Politics. This site provides a wonderful resource for women interested in running as candidates and getting elected. We also collaborate on the Map on Women in Politics- which we will launch in a few days here during the Commission on the Status of Women.Our partnership has created joint programs in five Parliaments to advance our common goal of gender equality.

In visiting many of your Parliaments, I am impressed by the importance of your work, the essential characteristic of national sovereignty, and the potential we have to work jointly. Together we can take bold new steps to advance women's empowerment, which benefits all of society. In 2012 UN Women will work with parliaments in 20 countries to amend laws to include gender equality. We will organize training sessions in 38 countries along with meetings for parliamentary and legislative techniques to advance women's political participation. We will support training for women candidates in 27 countries. And we will support reforms of electoral laws in 39 countries to facilitate the inclusion of women in elections as voters and candidates.

Now I would like to turn to theme of this year's Commission on the Status of Women, the key role of rural women and girls who constitute one-fourth of the world's population. Their contributions are vital to the well-being of families and communities, local and national economies, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Yet rural women's rights, contributions and priorities have been largely overlooked, their voices need to be heard and we have to listen to them.

In the UN General Assembly resolution on women in politics, which I mentioned earlier, there is a special call to Member States to “Encourage greater involvement of women who may be marginalized, including indigenous women, women with disabilities, women from rural areas, and women of any ethnic, cultural or religious minority, in decision-making at all levels. It is here where the reform of your electoral systems can play a key role in establishing mechanisms that allow for women to participate in decision-making. By increasing women's participation in rural organizations these institutions can better respond to women's priorities and needs; in shaping the development and monitoring of policies and programmes; and in influencing the manner in which services are provided.

Analysis shows that rural women and girls are the furthest from reaching all of the Millennium Development Goals. They have less access than urban women and girls and all boys and men to basic social services such as education and healthcare. Rural girls are twice as likely to be forced into child marriage and experience teenage pregnancy as girls in urban areas. Rural women and girls have unequal access to productive resources such as land and credit, services and employment, which limits their potential and hurts all of us.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the productivity gains from ensuring women's equal access to fertilizers, seeds and tools could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by an estimated 2.5 to 4 per cent, and reduce the number of hungry people by between 100 and 150 million.

There is an urgent need to review, amend or abolish laws and policies that discriminate against women. You, as members of Parliament, can play a decisive role in making sure that laws uphold human rights and gender equality. Being accountable to the people means that decisions of public authorities take into account women's and men's, and girls' and boys' needs and interests equally. Rural women and men, through awareness-raising and outreach programmes, should be aware of their rights, and the roles and responsibilities of national and local governments in protecting these rights. They, as well as rural and women's organizations, should have the means to hold public administration and service providers accountable for the accessibility and quality of rural services and programmes. This is democracy in action.

In Rwanda, UN Women supported analysis to understand how rural women benefit from agriculture policies and services. This information was provided to officials from the agriculture sector and the Parliament's Budget Commission, to make sure that women's priorities are taken into account in decision-making.

In five African countries (Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tanzania) UN Women is working to improve women's access to resources by training local governments on gender responsive planning, programming and budgeting. We are also mobilizing women councilors to participate in local planning and budgeting processes and investing in Local Development Funds to address women's priorities.

In Mozambique, women in consultative councils in the Muembe district are now advocating for their top five priorities, including the pressing need to guarantee food security for their households.

As parliamentarians, you are important allies to UN Women. With your ability to legislate, monitor implementation of laws, establish public policies, and approve budgets, you can turn words on paper into action for the benefit of the people.

When the Commission on the Status of Women ends, I urge you to take the agreed conclusions back to your respective countries, and turn these words into action. UN Women will stand beside you to promote the empowerment of women and gender equality.

We look forward to working with you in promoting the dignity and rights to which each human being is entitled. I thank you.